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Have you ever walked into a fitness center and been bewildered by the objects being used? Aside from dumbbells, people are throwing big orbs and swinging handled objects around like luggage. It may be nerve-wracking to step foot in a fitness center, especially if the equipment seems more suited to a circus than a gym.

But fear not! These objects are actually quite easy to use and can provide a creative and fun way to improve your fitness.

Why Use Special Equipment?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, college-aged adults should aim for 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity, plus two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities, per week.

Dr. Davis Smith, an internist at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, explains, “These modern pieces of equipment provide a variety of low-impact exercise options that are easily scalable in intensity. They allow access to beginners and the opportunity for increased complexity with strength and skill development.” Plus, as he notes, “They tend to be much more interesting and fun than simple weight lifting or using a treadmill or elliptical.” So, let’s learn about some of the equipment people find confusing.

BOSU® Ball

According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, over 65 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with the BOSU® ball. This piece of equipment looks like a large round ball that has been cut in half. One side is flat so it can be set on the ground without rolling, while the other side is round and inflated.

BOSU® balls are typically used to create an unstable surface for practice balancing and stretching, and for low-impact strength-training activities. Frankie R., a senior at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg and a personal trainer, says, “The BOSU® ball aids in the development of core stability and kinesthetic awareness, two essential factors related to balance.”

Resistance Bands

These tools look similar to oversized rubber bands, some with handles (like a jump rope) and others without. Frankie notes, “Those with handles are sometimes called ‘exercise tubes.’ They’re great for travel or those who are more susceptible to injury with free weights.”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance bands are useful for increasing coordination and can be used by just about anyone because they come in different levels of resistance, size, and purpose. For example, Frankie suggests that a set of “power bands” challenge stability and increase resistance while weight training.

Another way to use resistance bands is to place one around your ankles or wrists to increase tension on muscles while performing exercises. Brigid O., a dancer and recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, uses resistance bands to increase flexibility in her hips.


Kettlebells are small, round weights with a handle so they can easily be held. They vary in weight and size and are usually found near the dumbbells or free weights. Kettlebells are typically used in a similar way to dumbbells.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the use of kettlebells increased muscular strength and power and was a good alternative to traditional methods of strength training. Danielle M., a sophomore at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, agrees. She says, “I’m an equestrian, so it’s really important to keep my abs, back, and legs strong. The kettlebells help me work on those areas.” Eric Fredette, a personal trainer in Boston, Massachusetts, uses a basic kettlebell swing with his clients.

Medicine Ball

The medicine ball is a weighted object about the size of a basketball, though they can be found in a variety of sizes and weights. Cassie Brown, a group exercise coordinator and personal trainer in Boston, Massachusetts, frequently uses medicine balls. She says, “They’re good as a compact weight that can be grabbed with both hands.”

Frankie thinks medicine balls are an excellent tool. He explains, “There’s the opportunity to literally throw it to a partner, against a wall, or by yourself.”

The next time you exercise, try our some of these pieces of equipment and see if one suits your goals and interests. If you’re unsure how to perform a specific move, make sure to check in with a student or professional staff member at the gym. Many offer equipment orientations. You can also watch video demonstrations for ideas and to practice your form. You’ll be a kettlebell-swinging pro in no time!

Take Action!

  • Ask student and professional gym staff for an equipment orientation.
  • Practice form in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the possibility of injury.
  • Travel with a resistance band to exercise on the go.
  • Start with lighter weights or resistance and increase as you build up strength and agility.

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